Careers Working with Children in Healthcare

From delivering babies to helping teens recover from sports injuries, learn about medical career and degree paths where you can help kids be physically and mentally healthy.

MEET THE EXPERT

Jennifer Duran
Jennifer Duran

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Jennifer Duran, RN, is a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse who has worked at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for over 21 years. Throughout her time, she has conducted many professional educational courses for clinical staff and is very passionate about providing education to families or caregivers in the care of their neonate. In November 2018, Jennifer traveled to Mbarara, Uganda as a nursing fellow to work with neonatal staff at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital. While there, she worked alongside nurses and other clinical staff members and provided daily educational sessions, with a noticeable improvement in practice.

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“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”


Fred Rogers, more commonly known as Mr. Rogers

Children deserve all the love and care in the world, from the first time they open their eyes until the day they leave the house and begin their own adult journey. While parents, families, and friends are a children’s core support system, medical professionals also play a central role in helping children stay healthy and happy as they grow. A career in child healthcare gives you the chance to be a champion to children and their families, while achieving professional success at the same time. And there’s more variety than you might think. From monitoring premature babies in an intensive care unit as a NICU nurse to helping teens get through tough times as clinical psychologist, pediatric healthcare careers are available at all professional levels and in nearly every physical, behavioral, and mental health discipline.

If you love kids and want a career where you can help them have a bright, healthy future, this guide is for you. We’ve highlighted 30 career ideas for working with children in different age ranges and the education you need to qualify for each. Keep reading to get started on your path to a fulfilling career in pediatric health.

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Why Choose a Child Healthcare Career?

1

Make a difference

“Purpose is the sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves…Purpose is what creates happiness.” Mark Zuckerberg’s advice to Harvard graduates exemplifies why so many are called to work in child health. Mission-driven, purposeful work fuels more than your long-term career goals. It fuels your soul.

2

Impact

Working in child-focused healthcare careers is like making an investment in our future. Giving kids a healthy start in life, whether it’s proper prenatal nutrition or mental health support in their teens, can profoundly improve a child’s life.

3

High demand

Four of the top-10 fastest growing careers according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections can be found in our list below: occupational therapy assistants, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and speech-language pathologists.

4

High salary potential

The BLS places obstetricians and pediatricians on their list of top-20 highest paying professions. Median annual wages for all healthcare professionals, practitioners and technicians, is higher than the median annual wage for all occupations—$66,440 compared to $38,640.

5

Flexibility

The healthcare industry offers flexibility in scheduling that often isn’t found in other professions. Pediatric nurses can schedule a full-time workweek to fit within three days of 12-hour shifts. Dental hygienists may benefit from family-friendly four-day work weeks or evening hours.

Standout Healthcare Careers at Each Child Development Stage

Do you find toddlers adorable, but pre-teens insufferable? Do you thrive on helping teenagers tackle complex issues but tremble in fear at the thought of holding a newborn? For some healthcare professionals, choosing a career that targets a specific age group just makes sense. In the list below, we’ve spotlighted 30 of the best child healthcare careers representing every stage of development, so you can find the one that best matches your interests, goals, and who you want to care for. It’s also important to note that many of these careers allow you to work with children in multiple age ranges.

Prenatal/Perinatal Care

Working with expectant parents can be one of the most rewarding types of child healthcare, as it sets the stage for the rest of a child’s healthy development. Healthcare workers in prenatal and perinatal care play a critical role in the health of moms and babies before and after birth. Here’s a look at some of the top careers in this important field.

Spotlight Careers

Obstetric Sonographer

Becoming pregnant can be an exciting and terrifying time for new parents. Obstetric sonographers play a vital role in this journey for families, offering expectant parents the first glimpse of their new baby inside the womb. Using ultrasound, or high frequency soundwaves, obstetric sonographers scan a pregnant woman’s uterus and ovaries. Sonograms are used to monitor the baby’s growth and development. They are also used to screen for birth defects and health conditions. Obstetric sonographers work in hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices.

What It Takes to Get There

Obstetric sonographers must earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in sonography. Alternatively, some colleges and hospitals offer a one-year certificate program. Most employers, as well as insurance companies, require obstetric sonographers to have earned a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer credential with OB/GYN specialty along with basic lifesaving.

How Much You Can Make

Potential Annual Earnings


10th Percentile 50th Percentile (Median) 90th Percentile
$39,000$61,000$90,000

Source: PayScale; March 2020

Certified Nurse Midwife
Obstetric Physician Assistant

More Careers to Consider

Career Median Annual Earnings Minimum Education Required
Doula $36,514 N/A
Labor & Delivery Nurse $64,046 Associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing
Obstetrician $223,593 Doctoral degree
Perinatal Nurse $73,796 Associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing

Infant (0 to 1 years)

What could be better than a job caring for newborn babies? Child healthcare professionals working with children from birth through their first year share the joys of a child’s first major milestones. In addition to monitoring babies’ health, they also educate families on how to keep their babies safe and support their development. Generalists working in pediatrics such as pediatric medical assistants work with babies as a natural part of their scope of practice. Medical professionals who specialize in infant care are more often supporting babies and families who face serious medical challenges in their first year of life.

Spotlight Careers

NICU Nurse (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)

No one wants their baby to wind up in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU, but when they do, families rely heavily on specialized care from NICU nurses. Nurses are crucial to monitoring the health of newborn babies who have severe health issues. Often, these are preterm babies, but others may be born with health conditions or birth defects and may have trouble breathing, heart problems, or serious infections. NICU nurses also provide invaluable support to families during this critical time.

What It Takes to Get There

NICU staff nurses are registered nurses and must hold an undergraduate degree from an campus or accredited nursing program. As NICU nursing is highly specialized, NICUs require nurses to have specialized training in NICU procedures and policies. They’re required to acquire 2,000 hours of experience in an NICU and pass a national certification exam before officially practicing as a neonatal nurse. Neonatal nurses looking to advance their careers can continue their studies at the graduate level through clinical nurse specialist or nurse practitioner degree programs.

How Much You Can Make

Potential Annual Earnings


10th Percentile 50th Percentile (Median) 90th Percentile
$52,280$73,300$111,220

Source: BLS.gov, May 2019

Neonatal Pediatric Occupational Therapist
Infant Massage Therapist

More Careers to Consider

Career Median Annual Earnings Minimum Education Required
Neonatologist $220,016 Medical degree & neonatology fellowship
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) $109,820 Master of Nursing Science (MSN)
Neonatal Respiratory Therapist $61,330 Associate degree & certification
Lactation Consultant $54,036 Associate nursing degree & IBCLC certification

Toddlers and Preschoolers (Ages 1 to 5)

This age is all about play and imagination—and high anxiety for parents trying to keep one step ahead of their curious little explorers. Most healthcare professionals at this stage are charting a child’s growth and teaching them and their parents how to keep their bodies (including those new teeth!) healthy and safe.

From crawling to hopping on one foot, toddlers and preschoolers race from one developmental milestone to the next. When parents and pediatricians become concerned about toddlers and preschoolers not achieving like their typically developing peers, they call in the specialized services like those of speech-language pathologists. Early intervention with physical or social-emotional differences can set kids up for long term success.

Spotlight Careers

Pediatric Dental Hygienist

Pediatric dental hygienists protect the tiniest teeth. The ADA recommends baby’s first visit to the dentist is around their first birthday. Pediatric dental hygienists are key to establishing a happy dental routine for their youngest patients both at the dental office and at home. Usually, these first visits help kids feel comfortable at the dentist and introduce them to good oral hygiene practices for home. Some pediatric dental hygienists work in public health. They may be part of a school sealant program or travel to Head Start classrooms to teach kids about how to take care of their teeth.

What It Takes to Get There

Dental hygienists must be licensed in every state in order to practice. An associate degree from an accredited campus-based or online dental hygiene school is the minimum requirement for licensure. There are no specific licensing requirements for pediatric dentistry. However, employers may seek to hire dental hygienists who have an Advanced Professional Certificate for Expanded Function Dental Hygiene (EFDH) in Pediatrics or have completed continuing education in pediatric dentistry including those with special needs.

How Much You Can Make

Potential Annual Earnings


10th Percentile 50th Percentile (Median) 90th Percentile
$53,150$76,220$103,340

Source: BLS.gov, May 2019

Speech-Language Pathologist
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

More Careers to Consider

Career Median Annual Earnings Minimum Education Required
Developmental Psychologist $101,790 PhD or Education Specialist (EdS) degree
Pediatric Physical Therapist $89,440 Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree
Pediatrician $170,560 Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (OD) degree

Grade-schoolers (Ages 5 to 12)

Grade-schoolers make major strides in growth and independence. Friends and activities begin to take on a larger role in their lives. Typically developing children benefit from regular checkups with pediatricians and dentists to monitor their health and development.

Children whose bodies aren’t developing normally or kids who have faced illness or injury, may work with pediatric occupational therapists to help them gain (or regain) strength and mobility. When increased academic and social demands exacerbate emotional and behavioral issues, pediatricians and parents can turn to professionals like behavioral analysts to help teach lagging skills and develop strategies for success.  

Spotlight Careers

Pediatric Medical Assistant

Pediatric medical assistants most often work in doctor’s offices or clinics. Some may work in specialties like pediatric urology or cardiology. Medical assistants who work with grade-schoolers carry out typical medical assisting duties like taking patient histories, checking vital signs, and entering medical records. Perhaps the most important part of their job is their ability to connect with grade schoolers and help them feel comfortable prior to exams or procedures. They also help families with medical forms necessary for school, camp, and sports.

What It Takes to Get There

Most medical assistants have a degree or certificate in medical assisting and many employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants. Advanced credentials including a specialty certification in pediatrics may also be required. Some states do not require any formal training beyond a high school diploma and on-the-job training.

How Much You Can Make

Potential Annual Earnings


10th Percentile 50th Percentile (Median) 90th Percentile
$25,820$34,800$48,720

Source: BLS.gov, May 2019

Pediatric Occupational Therapy Assistant
Behavior Analyst

More Careers to Consider

Career Median Annual Earnings Minimum Education Required
Recreational Therapist $48,220 Bachelor’s degree
Pediatric Registered Nurse $61,814 ADN, ASN, or BSN degree
School Nurse $64,428 ADN, ASN, or BSN degree
Pediatric Dental Assistant $40,080 Certificate or associate degree

Adolescents & Teenagers (Ages 12 to 18)

Teenage years are an incredible time of self-discovery. Teens can engage with adults on a whole new level and interact with their healthcare providers in more complex and mature ways as well.  

You may have heard the adage that little kids have little problems and big kids have big problems. For many parents of teens this rings all too true. Puberty ushers in a whole new wave of moods and physical growth. Athletic teens may rely on pediatric physical therapy assistants to help them recover from a sports injury and registered dietitian (RD) to fuel themselves for improved performance. Teens struggling with self-esteem, weight, or body image issues may also work with RDNs or clinical psychologists.

Spotlight Careers

Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant

Some call it the Bambi effect or maybe it’s just a teenager’s natural proclivity for risk-taking; whatever the cause, teens are twice as likely as adults to get injured. Growth, sports, illness, and physical differences are other reasons teens wind up needing physical therapy. Pediatric PTAs help teenagers recover from injury or overcome physical challenges. They observe, monitor, and help teen patients execute treatment plans developed in concert with physical therapists. They can also be instrumental in helping teenagers manage pain with techniques like stretching and massage.  

What It Takes to Get There

PTAs must earn an associate degree from an accredited program to be licensed or certified, which is required in all states. Education generally includes supervised clinical work. PTAs looking to specialize in pediatrics should seek out coursework and continuing education specific to pediatric physical therapy.

How Much You Can Make

Potential Annual Earnings


10th Percentile 50th Percentile (Median) 90th Percentile
$33,450$58,790$80,840

Source: BLS.gov, May 2019

Registered Dietician
Clinical Child Psychologist

More Careers to Consider

Career Median Annual Earnings Minimum Education Required
Athletic Trainer $48,440 Bachelor’s degree
Dermatologist $253,272 MD or DO degree
Pediatric Sports Medicine Physician $183,199 MD or DO degree

Professional’s Perspective: Q&A with a NICU Nurse

Jennifer Duran
mic

Jennifer Duran, RN, is a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse who has worked at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for over 21 years. Throughout her time, she has conducted many professional educational courses for clinical staff and is very passionate about providing education to families or caregivers in the care of their neonate. In November 2018, Jennifer traveled to Mbarara, Uganda as a nursing fellow to work with neonatal staff at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital. While there, she worked alongside nurses and other clinical staff members and provided daily educational sessions, with a noticeable improvement in practice.

Did you always know you wanted to be a pediatric nurse?

As a kid, I always loved math and science. I always gravitated to that. As the oldest of 8, I was naturally a caretaker. When I was in 7th grade, one of my younger siblings had cardiac surgery. It was pretty serious and we had to wait several days before we could visit him. I was really nervous. I remember so clearly when I walked into his room, there was a nurse sitting on his bed playing a video game with him. That was the moment I knew, right then and there, that I wanted to be a pediatric nurse.

In nursing school, I hoped to get on the toddler-pediatric rotation. It was the hardest one to get and I didn’t get it. I wound up in Labor and Delivery rotation, and later accepted a position there. It was tough. I learned a lot about how not to treat people. When I was just out of school, the mentality was that nurses would “eat their young.” It’s a much more supportive atmosphere now.

Was there anything that made you nervous when you started out?

Talk a little more about becoming a NICU nurse.

What would you tell someone starting out in the pediatric nursing profession?

What do you do for self-care?

What do you love about your job?

Additional Resources

American Association for Respiratory Care Neonatal-Pediatric Specialty Course

Association of Physicians Assistants in Obstetrics and Gynecology

CDC Child Development

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners

National Association of Neonatal Nurses

National Association of Neonatal Therapists

Neonatal Touch and Massage Certification

National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology